The Los Angeles Kings have signed Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year deal worth $18.75 million.
This ends speculation about where the 35-year-old would land upon his return to the NHL after a five-year absence.
Kovalchuk last skated in the NHL as a member of the New Jersey Devils. He was drafted first overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers and spent eight seasons there. He had 816 points in 816 career NHL games, including 417 goals.
Kovalchuk’s best performance to date was a 98-point campaign in 2005-2006. He has topped 50 goals in a season twice and has scored at least 40 goals in five seasons.
Kovalchuk is the seventh-highest scoring Russian in NHL history and holds the Thrashers franchise record for goals in a single season.
Perhaps the most notable of his headlines in North America was his contract issue, however. In July of 2010, Kovalchuk was set to become a free agent. He agreed to a new contract with the Devils, a massive deal to the tune of 17 years and $102 million. It was to be the longest contract in league history, but the NHL blocked on grounds that it circumvented the salary cap. A new deal was forged for 15 years and $100 million.
New Jersey was penalized for trying to bust the salary cap, but the league later forgave much of the punishment.
When the NHL had its lockout in 2012-2013, Kovalchuk headed for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL and that’s where the trouble really began. He didn’t return to the NHL immediately when the lockout was settled and joined Pavel Datsyuk, then also in the NHL, as an All-Star in the KHL.
By July of 2013, Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the National Hockey League. He had a dozen years left on his contract and left $77 million on the table. He picked up some serious change in the KHL, of course, but many are still soured by the way he left things.
That said, there’s no denying Kovalchuk can score and score often. The Kings, a team sorely in need of a change up front, will not have the enviable option of putting Kovalchuk with the likes of Anze Kopitar. This presents some intriguing offensive possibilities and shines a whole new light on Los Angeles in the coming season.